Friday, September 12, 2008

Guilty, count one

My jury trial has come to a close, although the experience still lives on.

This is the second time I have sat on a jury.  The first was 19 years ago for a murder trial. On that occasion I spent three weeks in the courtroom and we returned a guilty verdict. While it was not enjoyable from a day to day perspective, the overall experience was very educational and mind opening. For that reason I generally encourage people to participate if provided the "opportunity".

The murder trial from years ago was the result of a prison riot. While it was emotional and did include disturbing content (actual tape recording of the murder itself), the fact that this occurred during a prison riot did provide some isolation from the event.  Justice was critically important, but it was bad guys killing bad guys.  There were no long term emotional implications on me personally.

This recent trial was quite different. The trial involved alleged sexual assault of a 7 year old girl by her father. I cannot think of more disturbing content that could be brought to trial, nor a more serious charge for all parties involved to be filed.

There were two counts brought against the defendant.  The jury found the defendant guilty on the first more serious crime. The second count, a lessor crime on a different date, resulted in a hung jury. The jury was fairly sure that it happened, but we could not agree on the conclusive evidence of the "intent" which was a requirement to convict on the second count.

I first must say that we had an excellent jury. It was filled with intelligent people who all took their responsibility very seriously. They all participated with the desire to learn, understand, and come to the right conclusions. The defendant received remarkable consideration and benefit of the doubt. The hung jury on count two is an example of the teams willingness to listen to each other, consider alternative perspectives, but make personal decisions and to stick by those personal decisions. If "group think" were involved we would have returned guilty on both counts.

I still, days after completion, think about this trial many times per day. I still wake up in the night with dreams about the trial. I still feel sad and depressed daily as a result of what we saw and listened to. I don't believe I will ever forget the sight of an eight year old girl testifying on this particular topic. Tears are coming to my eyes as I write this post.

While I generally consider myself to be an emotionally removed individual, this trial has had an unbelievable impact on my personal mental well being. I kept my outward emotions at bay during the entire trial and deliberation. Hours after the trial completed I was meeting with the teachers assistant for my biology lab. It was there that I first broke down. I am sure that he is wondering what type of whack job student he's teaching. To his credit he handled it very well.

Maybe someday I will look back and determine that I was glad that I participated (as I do with that 19 year old murder trial), but today I cannot imagine that happening. I do feel good that we have prevented future abuses of this child by her father, that we have put a guilty person of the most heinous crime behind bars for a very long time, but the cost to me personally has been and will continue to be very high.

I still think jury duty is a critical role for our society and the values of our constitution, so on that level I will still recommend active participation.  However, my endorsement will be less positive on the personal benefits and perspective gains of the individual.

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